There is a strange twilight zone in modelling that currently exists in the UK, which sees many young women working with amateur male photographers in an attempt to add to their portfolios and increase their experience. The motivations of the men who choose to take these photographs varies greatly; from those who have a genuine interest in the arts, to others whose motivations may be more questionable.
A strange case that has wormed its way out of the dust over the past few days is that of the #TheKitchenPortraits, a series of photographs shot by a well-known music industry stalwart named Stephen Budd, known for managing acts such as The Gang of Four (and co-founding the Africa Express project with Damon Albarn). He has been taking pictures of black women in his kitchen, in a project he repeatedly claimed was in conjunction with AFRONOIRE magazine, with the proceeds going to the charity War Child.
However, the story becomes murky when it’s revealed that neither AFRONOIRE nor War Child are directly affiliated with Budd.
“I somewhat feel used. Though I had agreed to publish a selection of @stephenbudd’s photos, this wasn’t a collaboration in the sense in which he has emailed you ladies it to be. @stephenbudd, I wasn’t aware that we were working in conjunction on this project and I would have liked to have been (at least) asked for permission before you sent your emails linking AFRONOIRE to this project,” wrote AFRONOIRE editor Déborah Marie on Twitter.
War Child have also released a statement saying they will not be accepting any funds from Budd, although they were aware of the project to begin with: “We work to protect the dignity and equality of women and girls every day and have a strict protection policy in place to ensure that any image we use reflect our core values. As soon as we became aware of the nature of the images and following a review process internally, we made the decision that we will not be accepting any of the funds raised.”
Budd reached out to many of the women he photographed on social media, and has been said to be persistent in his messages and emails, as well as sending at least one sexually explicit message to a woman he was asking to participate.
Shannon, 22, was sent a message by Budd in November 2014 which said, “There is nothing I like more than giving head for forty-five minutes”. His follow up message read, “Sorry, I was drunk when I wrote that. Did I ever tell you about our project?” She explained that she hasn’t spoken to Budd in over a year, after he originally messaged her about doing a shoot in 2014. She agreed, but didn’t get back to him about a date.
“I think I tweeted something about giving head and he was referring to that. Guys can be quite forward when they see you’re open about sex,” she said.
Mulki, a 20-year old student who decided against doing the shoot with Budd said, “If he wasn’t direct messaging me on Twitter, he was emailing me.”
As well as an array of small-time bloggers, aspiring models, and adult work and fetish models, Budd also appears to have taken photographs with ex-Big Brother housemate Biannca Lake and contacted Victoria Secret model Leomie Anderson about shooting for #TheKitchenPortraits as well:
Yup I received the same email several times since last year smh https://t.co/7vCadcxmjI
— Leomie Anderson (@LeLeValentine) January 8, 2016
Budd’s behaviour was first brought to light by Neela Choudhury-Reid, a 22-year-old photographer and writer who heads up Cozy Magazine. Neela had first been contacted by Budd in 2013 regarding the same project. When she noticed #TheKitchenPortraits pop up earlier this week on Twitter, she was surprised.
“I saw a girl post pictures of #TheKitchenPortraits and I was surprised because I remembered him contacting me such a long time ago. I wondered why he was still doing it,” she said.
Budd has claimed in emails that the project was inspired by Malick Sidibe, who is best known for taking high-quality black and white photographs of 1960s Bamako, Mali. Budds’ photographs show young black women, sometimes in African-themed dress, in a poorly lit kitchen.
Nevertheless, many women who have seemingly worked with Budd in the past have been vehemently supportive of him on Twitter.
— Aina More (@AinaMORE) January 8, 2016
Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people negatively without fact . Don’t sweat it @stephenbudd
— Abi Adeyemi (@AbizArtUK) January 8, 2016
Erm @stephenbudd is a very dear & long time Friend of mine! Anything BUT exploitative / perverted / creepy …not my experience of him!
— Afrikan Feminist (@Diamond_London) January 8, 2016
Another woman named Shannon (not the same Shannon as quoted above), who worked with Budd on #TheKitchenPortraits, said: “His house is really artsy, it’s got a lot of African art and stuff, and he did give me a background on his career and why he was doing the shots the way he did them, because he did them on his little camera. I asked him why he was doing it on a small camera but he said he liked the way the lighting looked.
“He didn’t tell me what to wear at all. He said you can bring multiple outfits and so because it was an African thing I brought a Dashiki.”
In a statement released to gal-dem, Budd said: “This is a charitable project I have been working on to produce two photographic books, the first featuring 100 women and the second 100 men.
“It is a positive venture with the best of intentions to promote powerful or interesting London based African and Afro-Caribbean creative people and raise funds for charity.
“I am sorry an edited silly private message between adults has been leaked that had nothing to do with this.
“People taking part have praised their experience with the project on social media and its sad that some others choose to co-opt and subsequently damage something positive in order to fit a different agenda.”